Victories for Democracy Since Citizens United

Everyone Participates: Victories for Citizen-Funded Elections

·        Connecticut’s public financing system is a national model and remains popular among legislators and constituents.

·         Successful citizen-funded election initiatives have passed in cities and municipalities across the country over the last five years, with strong support from voters.

In 2011, after the Supreme Court’s Arizona Free Enterprise decision that invalidated a portion of some small-donor public financing systems that protect candidates from private spenders and outside attacks, the Connecticut legislature moved quickly to ensure its Citizens’ Election Program would remain viable for future elections. The legislature increased the grant amount candidates receive upon qualifying, giving candidates the funds they need to run competitive campaigns after successfully collecting the large number of small, qualifying contributions from their constituents.

In 2014, Maryland’s Montgomery County Council unanimously enacted small donor empowerment legislation that encourages candidates to finance their campaign funds from small, local contributions rather than relying on money from large donors. The program provides public matching funds for contributions of up to $150 to candidates who agree to turn down large and corporate or PAC contributions. County leaders expect the program to be in place for Montgomery’s 2018 election cycle.

In the November 2014 election, voters in Tallahassee, Florida approved a referendum to amend the city charter that included stricter campaign contribution limits, created new ethics rules, and provided each voter with a tax rebate up to $25 for contributions to campaigns. The initiative had strong bipartisan support and was passed with 67 percent of the vote.[i]

In February 2015, Chicago voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot question urging the city council to enact a new small-donor empowerment program to help curb the influence of corporate and special interests in local elections. Debate on that bill is about to begin as this report is published.

In November 2015, voters from coast-to-coast sent a message that they’re eager for serious, big changes to our campaign-finance laws. In Maine, by a vote of 55–45 percent, voters approved an initiative to improve the state’s landmark Clean Elections system by strengthening donor disclosure and enforcement requirements and restoring the state’s small-donor public financing system. In Seattle, voters said “Yes” to creating a first-in-the-nation “Democracy Voucher” system under which each voter will receive four $25 vouchers to give to qualifying candidates of their choice. The Seattle initiative also strengthens contribution limits for city contractors, closes the revolving door, and increases transparency and accountability in city elections. After these wins, the Huffington Post front page banner headline read, “Voters Chip Away at Citizens United.”

Everyone Has a Right to Know: Disclosure Winning Across the Country

·         Since Congress failed to pass the DISCLOSE Act, 23 states have strengthened disclosure laws in response to the Citizens United decision.

·         More than 1.2 million people sent comments to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) demanding disclosure of corporate political spending.

·         More than 1 million people petitioned President Obama to issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.

Although Justice Kennedy predicated the majority opinion in Citizens United on the assumption that there would be robust disclosure of the funders behind newly allowed corporate political spending, the decision ultimately opened up our campaign finance system to a massive infusion of secret money. The spending is channeled primarily through 501(c)(4) nonprofits and trade organizations that are not required to disclose their donors, but can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections so long as they operate (at least officially) independent from candidates and parties.

In reaction to Citizens United, several members of Congress drafted the DISCLOSE Act in 2010. While the bill passed the House of Representatives, it failed by a single vote to overcome a Senate filibuster and has been stalled since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011.

Meanwhile, at least 23 states have passed new disclosure laws or rules since Citizens United. Several state legislatures updated their disclosure laws immediately following Citizens United. Since then, states including Massachusetts, Maryland, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Delaware have passed more robust disclosure laws. Some of these stronger transparency laws require the campaigns’ to disclose their top donors in campaign ads, reveal secret money funneled between political groups, and ensure that outside group spending is disclosed.

In addition to successful state campaigns for political spending and donor disclosure, investors and organizations have been pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to adopt a rule requiring publically traded corporations to disclose their political spending to shareholders. The campaign has generated a record-breaking 1.2 million comments to the SEC in favor of the rulemaking.[ii] The number of shareholder proposals to companies relating to their political activity has more than doubled since Citizens United.[iii]

Additionally, more than 1 million[iv] people have signed a petition calling on President Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending. Disclosure efforts are also underway at the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS).


Everyone Plays by the Same Rules: A Constitutional Amendment Undoing Citizens United

·         Since 2010, 16 states and more than 680 cities and municipalities have called on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.

·         The majority of the U.S. Senate voted in September 2014 in support of a constitutional amendment.

·         Polling and results from state ballot measures show Americans across the political spectrum disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court and want to see Citizens United overturned.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration in 2010 (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that it is unconstitutional to prohibit corporate spending to influence elections or to limit the size of “independent” electioneering expenditures has prompted widespread calls for a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.

In a 2015 Bloomberg poll, 78 percent of respondents said the Citizens United ruling should be overturned.[v] Other polls show similar results, with nearly 80 percent of respondents to a 2015 New York Times/CBS poll[vi] saying they believed spending by groups not affiliated with a candidate should be limited.

Sixteen states and more than 680 local jurisdictions[vii] have expressed a desire for passage of a constitutional amendment that would, in general, stipulate that corporations are not entitled to the same First Amendment rights as human beings and that the government may legally limit spending in elections.

The 16 states that have called for a constitutional amendment include: 11 in which a majority of both legislative houses have voted in favor of an amendment; three in which the majority of both houses have signed letters in favor of an amendment; and two in which citizens have approved ballot initiatives calling for an amendment.

The results of the statewide ballot initiatives are striking. Colorado’s initiative instructing the state’s congressional delegation to support an amendment to repeal Citizens United was approved by a vote of 74 to 26 percent in 2012.[viii] The same year, Montana citizens voted 75 to 25 percent[ix] in favor of a ballot initiative calling for a policy of prohibiting corporate campaign contributions and expenditures, and limiting political spending in elections.[x]

These votes were even more remarkable because they occurred in “purple” and “red” states. At the federal level, Republican representatives have unanimously opposed measures to respond to Citizens United, including commonsense measures as simple as requiring disclosure of contributors to groups spending money to influence elections. Yet, the people of one state nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans (Colorado) and another that typically leans heavily Republican (Montana) voted three-to-one to reverse Citizens United.

At the federal level, the U.S. Senate voted 54-42[xi] in September 2014 in favor of a joint resolution supporting an amendment that would permit Congress and the states “to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections” and allow legislators to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations” in campaign finance regulation. Proponents of the amendment were not able to obtain the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Nonetheless, a majority vote in a typically conservative body in favor of a constitutional amendment was notable.

States Calling for a Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Decisions Like Citizens United



Letters Signed by Majorities of Both Houses

Ballot Initiative































New Jersey



New Mexico






Rhode Island






West Virginia



Source: United for the People,



[i] Huffington Post, “Tallahassee Voters Said No To Big Money, Corruption In City Politics,” November 5, 2015

[ii] Public Citizen, “One Million Comments Urge the SEC to Stop Secret Corporate Political Spending,” September 4, 2014

[iii] Sustainable Investments Institute, “Mid-Year Review: Corporate Political Activity Proposals in the 2014 Proxy Season,” August 2014


[iv] US PIRG, “Groups To Deliver One Million Signatures Urging President Obama To Curb Secret Money,” December 15, 2015

[v] Bloomberg, “Bloomberg Poll: Americans Want Supreme Court to Turn Off Political Spending Spigot,” September 28, 2015

[vi] New York Times, “Americans’ Views on Money in Politics,” June 2, 2015

[vii] United For The People: State and Local Support; accessed January 6, 2015

[ix] Montana Secretary of State: 2012 Statewide General Election Canvass

[x] Montana Secretary of State, “Voter Information Pamphlet: Your Guide To The 2012 General Election Ballot Issues,” 2012

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